My time as a Chaplaincy student

UnknownWhen I was a very new nurse, I worked in a large University Medical Center in a Peds ICU. One night we had a baby who was doing poorly and we called a Chaplain because the parents had asked that the baby be baptized. I assumed that the Chaplain would be an old man…when a young woman arrived, I think I stared at her from the moment she entered to the moment she left. I wanted to be her for about 4 reasons that night. I was 20 years old, however…WAY too young to think of such a change and besides, God and I hadn’t been on speaking terms for a while.

Years went by and circumstances changed and I always had that idea way in the back of my head…if you had asked me what I would do if I could do anything, I would have said that I wanted to be a Hospital Chaplain. (Yes, God and I were speaking again, but with a new language as I had become Catholic.)

My 3 kids got into school (barely, Julia had just started 1st grade) and the idea was in my mind again. I found a local Chaplaincy Program (CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education) in my greater metro area (Kansas City at the time) and applied. It was an act of frustration and defiance at the time although I am not sure who or what I was defying.

The application said that you were supposed to be an ordained minister or “other qualified laity” ; I decided that I was the latter…now I just had a panel of experts to convince. I had to write a few essay answers to questions and then the interview. The interview was me on the hot seat with about 9 smart, capable, well educated Professional Chaplains. I don’t remember many of the specific questions they asked except that the “how would you care for someone outside your own tradition” in about 6 different ways. At the time of the interview, I felt scrutinized to the point of abuse, but once I learned how much damage a bad Chaplain could do, I became forgiving of how invasive the questioning was.

The first question people ask is can Catholic women be Chaplains? Yes. Lay woman function much as Religious Sisters would in the same setting. I perceived myself as studying the art of visiting the sick. One surprising revelation came one day when my teacher referred to me “going into ministry”. I assured him that has most certainly NOT gone into ministry. The argument went on for a bit and definitions were argued and after quite a battle, they convinced me that I had gone into ministry. (I was seized with fear that I would never be able to tell a dirty joke ever again.)

My peers in class were a Catholic Priest & an assortment of protestants were mostly Methodists & folks from Unity & Unitarian (not the same thing) groups. I percieved that they felt bad for me that I couldn’t be ordained which felt strange because I am (really no joke) 100% ok with women not being ordained as Priests (or Deacons). I came to learn that Hospital Chaplaincy training is part of the required course work for almost any Christian denomination and many of my classmates were there for this reason. I was also the only Nurse in a class of people who were venturing into a hospital setting which was for them rather foreign; it was really strange for me to hear people speak of how frightening and stressful it was for them to negotiate something that was second nature for me.

Discussing / arguing points of faith and theology with Pastors, Priests, Seminarians, Rabbis & Religious Sisters, THAT was foreign territory for me. At the beginning, I was so convinced that every person in the room was smarter than me, I thought I might never want to speak. If you know me, you would know that “not speaking” didn’t last long. The class was sworn to forever secrecy of things spoken of in that room so I can share very little of what was spoken in class (plus Im getting old and have forgotten most of what transpired, I only remember ideas and feelings) so I won’t give any blow-by-blows, but there were a few lessons that have lasted with me  in the nearly 10 years since I took the class.

I will cut to the end of the story and tell you that after studying for the better part of 2 years (part time) I decided that I didn’t want to be a Chaplain and would take my hard-earned new knowledge back into my old world of Nursing where I hoped it would serve me well (it has). I now feel capable to have “God talk” with people from a wide range of beliefs while being true to myself and being respectful of what they believe. My goal isn’t to make them believe this or that, it is to assist them in times of crisis to remember how to mobilize their own faith to help them.

Now that I have opened this box of memories, I want to tell this story and that one – all making this far too long for  a blog post…I will tell them in due time.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m glad you shared this memory, Tammy, it’s fascinating to think of how everyone in the program brought their own experiences and strengths. I love the way you are able to tie that training into your work now.

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